Cool and collected, Jones letting Sharks find their game
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SAN JOSE, Calif. – A minor mystery has arisen inside the San Jose Sharks’ locker room this season, one concerning the rhythms of their young goaltender’s ticker. “I’d love to see a heart-rate monitor on this guy,” forward Tommy Wingels said. “I don't know if it ever gets over 60,” Brent Burns said. In other words, even colleagues wonder how Martin Jones remains so calm.
Consider Sunday night’s 3-2 victory over the Nashville Predators, which boosted the Sharks to a 2-0 series lead in the Western Conference semifinals. The 25-year-old made 37 saves, more than any San Jose netminder in a Stanley Cup playoffs win since April 12, 2012. He turned away 10 shots attempted from within 10 feet, including two within the final seven seconds. He steeled the hosts at SAP Center through an effort Burns described like this: “A lot of guys didn’t play up to their potential. It’s no secret.” And he notched his third straight regulation win at home for the first time all season.
“He’s just very composed, especially for a young goalie,” defenseman Paul Martin said. “He relies heavily on his position and being in the right spot and making the right read. He’s not flashy. But I think that’s just because he’s always in a good spot or getting to the right spot to make those hard saves look easier than they really are.”
A little more than 10 months ago, Jones was playing an Arizona golf course when his phone buzzed. He had already been shipped across the country from Los Angeles to Boston at the 2015 NHL draft, but partially suspected the move wouldn’t last long. His intuition proved correct four days later as the Bruins flipped him back to the Pacific Division, a few hours north of his old home in southern California, much to the surprise of everyone on the links. “I think my friends were just as stunned as me,” Jones recalled later. “But they were excited. They knew it was a bit of an opportunity for me to play some games.”
Jones’s numbers weren’t particularly flashy during his first campaign as a full-time starter; among the NHL’s 42 goaltenders who made at least 30 appearances, he ranked 22nd in save percentage (.918) and seventh in goals against average (2.27). But he was critical during the Sharks’ opening-round win over the Los Angeles Kings, allowing no more than three goals in any of the five games. And now, after denying more pucks than he had in any home game during the regular season, the Sharks sit two victories away from their first Western Conference finals appearance since 2011. Evaluations from teammates were appropriately gushing.
“He was by far our MVP tonight,” Wingels said. “We didn’t have it offensively, or for the most part defensively tonight, but he made the big saves when he needed to. You’re going to have to rely on your goalie occasionally and he stepped up for us tonight.”
Behind the scenes, teammates claim, Jones’s personality often contrasts his serenity in the crease. “He’s a very social, outgoing guy,” Wingels said. “I guess you wouldn’t see that from the way he plays.” Or from how he discusses his game. When asked how he navigated the chaos of bodies and pucks invading his doorstep, Jones replied, “I’m just trying to make the best read I can. That’s my only thought.” When asked if he has always exhibited such calmness in net, Jones offered, “I don’t really think about that. I’m just trying to play.”
Plenty other stars stepped up for San Jose when necessary. Logan Couture broke the scoreless tie with his third goal of the series, gathering Burns’s rebound on the power play late in the second period. Less than three minutes remained in regulation when captain Joe Pavelski found teammate Tomas Hertl’s loose change and barely slapped it under the diving body of Predators defenseman Shea Weber. Later, with Nashville’s net empty, Pavelski tied up Roman Josi along the wall, letting Couture swipe the puck and find Joe Thornton for what became the game-winner.
But the Sharks, who were out-attempted at even strength by six and outshot overall by 15, discounting the empty-netter, left the rink dissatisfied with their overall effort heading into Tuesday’s Game 3 at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. “It’s been a constant thing all year, we haven’t been able to play well here—not even play well, just get the job done,” Dillon said. “I think a big positive we can take is I don't think we’ve even played close to our best game yet. It’s something we’re going to have to build on.” Largely thanks to Jones, though, they escaped unscathed, still in the driver’s seat for the series.
Few understood this better than Burns. During the second period, as Josi peeled down the left side, Burns went for a poke-check and instead got burned. In one smooth move, Josi hopped over Burns’ jabbing stick and dragged the puck underneath it, knifing toward Jones in the slot. Jones, however, barely reacted. He dropped down on Josi’s backhand attempt and tracked the puck away, off his left pad. During the next stoppage, Burns approached Jones and tapped him on the leg.
“He saved my bacon,” Burns said later. “So I just told him, ‘Thanks for saving me.’”